LIVE: Freihofer’s Jazz Festival @ Saratoga

Bettye Lavette (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
Bettye Lavette (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)

The 32nd annual Freihofer’s Jazz Festival took place at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Saturday and Sunday, June 27-28. You can read my reviews in the Times Union. For a second opinion from the Daily Gazette, go here or here. We also have more photos from Saturday and Sunday.

Here are a few additional random thoughts regarding the fest:

AGE AIN’T NOTHIN’ BUT A NUMBER: Never has the dichotomy of age been so evident as it was at the Sunday edition of the fest. The big amphitheater main stage definitely belonged to the veterans, including Bettye LaVette (age 63), George Benson (66), George Coleman (74) and Dave Brubeck (88). Meanwhile, the more intimate gazebo stage was ruled by youth, including bandleaders Aaron Parks (24), Julian Lage (21) and Grace Kelly (17). In fact, their three combined ages don’t even match LaVette’s age, coming in at just 62.

NO THRILLER: I heard Michael Jackson’s death referenced only once again throughout the fest – when Patti LaBelle asked for a moment of silence for Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Jackson’s music wasn’t much of a factor, either, surfacing only for a brief snippet of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” during one of bassist Marcus Miller’s solos.

DOUBLE DUTY: As advertised trumpeter Wallace Roney pulled double-duty on Saturday, performing as the featured soloist with Jimmy Cobb and the So What Band on the main stage before making his way over to the gazebo stage later in the day to lead his own quintet. But it was bassist John Webber who pulled the most impressive doubleheader of the fest – playing with Cobb’s So What Band on Saturday and returning to the main stage again on Sunday as a member of George Coleman’s quartet.

Dave Brubeck and Michael Moore (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
Dave Brubeck and Michael Moore (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)

TRIBUTE TIME: The big performances of the fest honored the half-century anniversary of classic jazz albums – Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” and the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Time Out.” But the tributes didn’t end there. George Benson honored the music of Nat King Cole by singing a dozen of Cole’s biggest hits. And trumpeter Mark Morganelli built the entire performance of his Jazz Forum Brazil Project into an homage to Antonio Carlos Jobim.

UNDER THE COVERS: Amid all of the tributes to jazz greats, there were, as always, a few selections that you might not expect to hear at a jazz fest. The Dred Scott Trio gets top honors in this category with an ambitious re-invention of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” In second place is the Aaron Parks Trio, who closed their gazebo set with Robert Wyatt’s “Sea Song.” And spectacular R&B vocalist Bettye LaVette deserves a category all to herself for a delivering a devastating set that not only included Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow,” but also a towering a capella rendition of Sinead O’Conor’s “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.”

2 days
2 stages
3 bassists in SMV
3 trombonists in Bonerama
13 members of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra
17 – the age of the fest’s youngest bandleader, saxophonist Grace Kelly
21 acts performed during the fest
28 members of the orchestra for George Benson’s tribute to Nat King Cole
31 hours of live music over the course of the fest
32 years that SPAC has hosted the jazz fest under a variety of sponsor names
50 years since the release of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” and Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out”
88 – the age of the fest’s oldest bandleader, pianist Dave Brubeck

George Benson (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
George Benson (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)

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